The Dementia Australia Research Foundation, with the Yulgilbar Alzheimer’s Research Program (YARP), have announced three, rather than one, recipients of the inaugural $1 Million Dollar Innovation Grant for new research ideas that advance dementia research.
Dementia Australia Research Foundation Chair, Professor Graeme Samuel AC, said that submissions to the inaugural $1 Million Innovation Grant so inspired the judging panel and funders that an additional $1 million would be shared between two runner-up projects.
“Dementia Australia is thrilled to see the Grant attract a brilliant cross-pollination of internationally-recognised scientists and researchers across areas of nanoscience, stem-cell biology and health data,” Professor Samuel said.
A $1 million grant has been awarded to Professor Perminder Sachdev of UNSW Sydney’s Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing while two new $500,000 Grants have been awarded to Professor Simon Bell at the Centre for Medicine Use and Safety, Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Monash University, and Professor Chennupati Jagadish AC from the Australian National University.
The Yulgilbar Alzheimer’s Research Program’s Scientific Director, Professor Bob Williamson, said the judging panel assessed all the submissions for their novelty and innovation, links to people living with dementia, families and carers, and the extent to which they would be developing and introducing new and younger researchers into the dementia field.
“I congratulate Professor Sachdev and his team, who propose to use nanoparticles to move across the blood brain barrier and target dementia-specific molecules in the brain such as amyloid and tau,” Professor Williamson said.
“This offers a chance of better, more rapid and accurate diagnosis, and in the long run the team hope to show that the nanoparticles may be used to piggy-back drugs into the brain to delay or treat dementia.”
Runner-up recipient Professor Bell with colleagues from the United States, United Kingdom and Hong Kong, will evaluate health data from hundreds of thousands of patients.
“Using modern big data and public health techniques, Professor Bell will be able to work out which drugs to use to support people with dementia, and perhaps allow personalised medicine approaches that use individual data to predict the best response, something that is only possible with international collaboration,” Professor Williamson said.
In a world first, the second runner-up recipient, Professor Jagadish, will combine technologies in stem cell research with artificial intelligence (AI) to develop ‘brain organoids’ or ‘mini-brains’ from stem cells taken from people living with Alzheimer’s disease as well as individuals unaffected by the disease.
“Professor Jagadish and his team will model brain function ‘in-the-dish’ and then apply computational and AI-based analyses to identify key functional differences between normal and Alzheimer’s disease brain organoids and predict stimulation parameters that may promote ‘normal’ brain function,” Professor Williamson said.
Each of the successful projects will include vital input from people living with dementia and carers throughout all stages of the research process.
John Quinn, aged 67, who is living with dementia, said the inclusion of people living with dementia and carers at this level of research is key to the authenticity and credibility of each project and ultimately, leads to better quality health outcomes.
“These projects demonstrate how dementia research can be a partnership between researchers, clinicians, people living with dementia, and if appropriate, care partners and family,” Mr Quinn said.
Commitment to research aimed at preventing and treating all forms of dementia, and especially Alzheimer’s disease, has grown both in size and substance during the past five years.
“In 2013 the Australian Government allocated $200 million to the Boosting Dementia Research Initiative which has been crucial to creating momentum in Australia and positioning our researchers on the world stage,” Professor Samuel said.
“These new grants, coming from the Dementia Australia Research Foundation, represent a truly exciting development in the funding of internationally-significant dementia research, which has been achieved through a collaborative partnership of philanthropic organisations that have a shared vision for research in Australia.
“With more than 40 high-calibre separate bids for these grants, our Innovation Grant has clearly demonstrated the numbers of Australian doctors and scientists keen to get involved in dementia research.
“I call on all governments and philanthropists to consider how they too can expand research into dementia in Australia and make a difference to the lives of all people impacted by dementia now and for the generations to come.”